When the Blue Jackets selected Daniil Tarasov with the 86th overall pick at this year's Entry Draft, it surprised some. The goaltender had missed all of last season due to injury. But when you understand Tarasov's potential, the selection is likely a shrewd one for the Jackets.
Tarasov burst onto the international hockey scene in the 2016 World Junior Championships. Playing for team Russia, the then 17-year-old was part of a comparatively younger squad sent to the tournament after suspensions affected the country's U18 player's eligibility.
In five games, Tarasov posted a .920 save percentage.
"The entire hockey world was shocked at this goalie's performance," Blue Jackets' goaltending coach Ian Clark said. "Here was this underage goalie put into the fire to anchor this young group, and one of the reasons for the performance of the group was this young goalie."
With such excitement building around the young Russian, anticipation was high for the upcoming season. But a leg injury that required surgery kept Tarasov off the ice for the entirety of the 2016-17 campaign.
The Jackets were able to keep tabs on Tarasov's healing process through goaltending connections that are both genetic and poetic.
Clark had established a connection with Tarasov's father, Vadim. The senior Tarasov had an extensive career as a goaltender in the KHL and now coaches in the league. He is a player many idolized, including two-time Vezina winner, Sergei Bobrovsky.
Now, Daniil, the second generation of Tarasov goaltenders, hails from Bobrovsky's hometown of Novokuznetsk, and has looked up to Bobrovsky for quite some time.
"We felt comfortable as a group with where Tarasov is at," Clark said. "He's ready to go. We spent some time together (With Vadim) reviewing (Daniil's) rehab and progress."
And what is it about Tarasov's play that makes him an exciting prospect?
The first thing you notice about the goaltender is his size. Listed at 6-foot-4, seeing Tarasov's size when the netminder arrived in Chicago for this year's Draft was obvious. And while height and length is a coveted asset for goaltenders, that's not the only thing that sets him apart.
"Size alone doesn't get you there," Clark said. "You take his size and add to it his athletic ability, and his instinctive ability. You want good technique to handle the typical saves that you face, but then every game there's a handful of situations which require creative solutions in the moment. That's the goalie's instinctive ability to play the game ,and that is what this guy has."
Another key element of Tarasov's potential is his work ethic. The Jackets were impressed with his training discipline and attention to detail.
"Your goaltender is there to help anchor the group," Clark said. "That level of responsibility has to be embraced by the goalie with preparational routines, discipline in training off the ice, training on the ice, and making sure each repetition is proper, so under duress in the game, that technique and those skills are there to support them."
With KHL tryouts having begun July 1, Tarasov is preparing for the upcoming season. He's slated to play in the MHL, the top junior league in Russia with Tolpar Ufa.
"He's going to be in a great spot in a very strong organization," Clark said. "We're very excited to have him (as a Blue Jackets prospect)."